Blame for delay lies with target fixation

Imagine a planning system in which the volume of appeals has gone up by more than 20 per cent and it takes nearly a year to arrange a site visit, never mind secure a hearing. By any measure, such a system would be judged a shambles. There would be hell to pay if a local planning authority confessed to being in a similar situation. Yet this is precisely the situation facing the country today.

The Advisory Panel on Standards for the Planning Inspectorate admits that the agency's workload has got so out of hand that its own targets cannot be met. Record levels of applications are one reason for this mess.

The shortage of planners to deal with the development deluge is another.

But the government's target culture must take its fair share of the blame.

Cutting the time limit for submitting appeals from six to three months has proved damaging. Inevitably, applicants are going to appeal rather than negotiate. The same can be said for basing some of the criteria for receiving the planning delivery grant on councils' performance against the eight and 13-week targets. The simplest way to meet these targets is to turn down any application where a compromise might have been struck in the past. This again leads to more appeals.

Whatever the ethos behind Best Value in planning in the past, it is not there now. The target culture is leading to a fatally slow and chaotic system rather than contributing to progress. A council's performance should be judged on the quality of its decisions and its readiness to negotiate with developers. Instead, planners are feeding the Best Value beast rather than contributing to a better environment.

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